June Wan and Jason Hiner/ZDNET

When it comes to the best flagship smartphone you can buy, you almost immediately look to Samsung and Apple. Both have been producing some of the best smartphones we’ve ever tested at ZDNET, and in 2024, they continue that tradition with the Galaxy S24 Ultra and iPhone 15 Pro Max.

Also: Every product Samsung announced at Unpacked 2024

There’s no question that the S24 Ultra is one of Samsung’s most impressive smartphones to date, with incredibly powerful specs jammed into a glass and titanium body that’s every bit of premium that you’d expect. Meanwhile, the iPhone 15 Pro Max takes a similar approach, with a titanium body and glass on the front and back with the most powerful processor ever in a smartphone.

Of course, when it’s time to decide between the two, you’ve got to know what you’re getting for your money. Below, we’re breaking down why you should pick one phone over the other so that you get the device that best fits your lifestyle.

Specifications

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

iPhone 15 Pro Max

Display

6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X with 120Hz (LTPO)

6.7-inch Super Retina XDR with ProMotion (120Hz)

Processor

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3

Apple A17 Pro

RAM/Storage

12GB with 256GB, 512GB, 1TB

8GB with 256GB, 512GB, 1TB

Battery

5,000mAh

4,441mAh

Camera

200MP main, 50MP periscope telephoto, 10MP telephoto, 12MP ultra-wide, 12MP front

48MP main, 12MP periscope telephoto, 12MP ultra-wide, 12MP front

Connectivity

5G (sub-6GHz and mmWave), Wi-Fi 7

5G (sub-6GHz and mmWave), Wi-Fi 6E

Colors

Titanium Black, Titanium Gray, Titanium Violet, Titanium Yellow

Black Titanium, White Titanium, Blue Titanium, Natural Titanium

IP rating

IP68

IP68

Price

Starting at $1,299

Starting at $1,199


You should buy the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra if…

June Wan/ZDNET

1. You want all the features

Samsung is known for throwing in just about every feature you could want on a smartphone through its One UI software experience, and the S24 Ultra is no different. From new AI tricks for things like photo edits and transcribing voice memos to opening apps in floating windows and virtually unlimited customization, you get a lot with the S24 Ultra to make it your own and take full advantage of the power under the hood.

Also: Samsung Galaxy S24 series hands-on: I did not expect this model to be my favorite

Oh, and you get a ton of hardware features like a gorgeous 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display, a five-camera system led by a huge 200MP sensor, a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, a 5,000mAh battery, 12GB of memory, up to 1TB of storage, and more. Anyone who wants the phone with the most should look no further than this absolute unit.

2. You like to zoom into your photos

Speaking of the camera system, a feature the Galaxy S Ultra series is known for is Space Zoom, Samsung’s zoom system that can crop in all the way up to 100x. It uses a special telephoto lens and special software to preserve details and clarity so you can get up close and very personal with your subject. You won’t find this feature on any other flagship phone in the United States, so if it’s something you can take advantage of, the S24 Ultra is the way to go.

3. You like having a stylus

Since the death of the Galaxy Note series, Samsung has kept the S Pen around on its Ultra series, and the Galaxy S24 Ultra is the latest to come with a stylus, this time with a slightly flatter display for an easier writing experience. It’s a handy tool to have if you want to sketch on the go, sign a document, scroll through social media, or even take a selfie by using the S Pen as a remote shutter button. Having an S Pen can make or break the experience for a lot of folks, and if you fall into the camp that requires an S Pen to survive, then you’ll want to go the Samsung route in your buying decision.

You should buy the iPhone 15 Pro Max if…

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

1. You’re already in the Apple ecosystem

It’s an obvious point to make, but if you’ve already invested time and money in the rest of Apple’s ecosystem, the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the phone you should buy. Not only will it match all your other Apple products with its fruity logo on the back, but it’ll work seamlessly with your other devices thanks to its tight integration with iCloud and other services. 

Also: iPhone 15 Pro review: Coming from iPhone 12 Pro or earlier? This upgrade will wow you

All your photos, text messages, passwords, and more will sync over automatically during setup, and you’ll be able to continue using your Apple Watch and AirPods.

2. You want the fastest performance possible

The Galaxy S24 Ultra’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 processor is fast, but it’s still no match for Apple’s A17 Pro in the iPhone 15 Pro Max. From benchmarks to everyday usage, the A17 Pro runs laps around Qualcomm’s silicone thanks to Apple’s top-to-bottom optimizations through software. The 15 Pro Max (and 15 Pro, for that matter) is simply the fastest phone on the market, making it perfect for multitasking, gaming, and everything in between. If raw performance is what you crave, the iPhone is calling your name.

3. You realize that magnetic wireless charging is superior

Apple’s iPhones have supported MagSafe since 2020, giving users an easy way to wirelessly charge their devices by lining up the coils using magnets. It’s such a good system that Qi2, the newest version of the biggest wireless charging standard in the world, has adopted magnets as part of its design so that more phones can take advantage of it. 

Unfortunately, the Galaxy S24 Ultra misses out on Qi2 charging, instead forcing you to line the phone up perfectly with your wireless charger to get it to charge. Once you go magnetic, you can’t go back, and anyone who wants an easier time wirelessly charging their phone will want the 15 Pro Max.

Alternatives to consider

BEST GOOGLE ALTERNATIVE

Google Pixel 8 Pro

The Google Pixel 8 Pro has an amazing camera system, long battery life, and the smartest version of Android yet.

BEST IPHONE ALTERNATIVE

Apple iPhone 15 Plus

While it doesn’t have the crazy cameras or titanium design as the 15 Pro Max, the iPhone 15 Plus still has a big screen, solid performance, and the longest battery life of any iPhone.

BEST SAMSUNG ALTERNATIVE

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

Sharing almost identical designs, camera systems, and displays, the S23 Ultra isn’t very different compared to the S24 Ultra. Plus, it’ll be discounted heavily throughout 2024.

Samsung Unpacked